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Thursday, 20th May 2021

Deforestation & Beekeeping

By Rainie Schulte

Beekeepers across the globe depend on the natural world for their livelihoods, as ecosystems and honey bee colonies are reliant on one another. Honey bee colonies feed on the nectar of flowers found in the forest (forage) and use it to make honey. Forests need honey bees to pollinate floral species so that they can produce fruits and seeds. Honey bees are the single most important species of pollinator in natural ecosystems around the world (Hung et al 2018); without them, the world as we know it simply would not exist.

Because of this dependence on forests, the loss of forage from their area can be very worrying for beekeepers and devastating to local honey bee populations. If a colony of honey bees is unable to find enough forage near the hive, it will abscond in search of a more suitable site, leaving beekeepers empty-handed. Unfortunately, in southeast Madagascar, where beekeeping provides a sources of income for rural community members, forage is being lost at an astounding rate. Madagascar is currently experiencing some of the highest rates of deforestation in the world, losing nearly half (44%) of its forests in the past 60 years (Harper et al 2007; Vieilledent et al 2018). Sites involved in SEED’s beekeeping project, Project Renitantely, are rapidly becoming less suitable due to deforestation and degradation of nearby forest as a result of slash and burn agriculture and community dependence on natural resources.

Slash and burn agriculture is a leading cause of deforestation in Madagascar.

This year, the COVID-19 pandemic and a drought during the usual ‘wet’ season have only worsened the situation. Already one of the poorest countries of the world (UNDP 2018), the COVID-19 related economic impacts have included price increases of at least 36% for local food staples, such as rice, kidney beans, and cassava. Having to spend more on basic goods means that community members are less likely to make environmentally friendly or sustainable choices. Despite the long-term economic reliance on healthy biodiversity, the needs of daily survival limit the perceived urgency of environmental concerns and unsustainable deforestation continues. The drought, which lasted from November 2020 to March 2021 brought about widespread famine and increasing levels of poverty (European Commission 2021) as crop harvests failed and water sources dried up. Agricultural fields that were once able to supplement honey bee forage didn’t bloom this year. Thus, the drought not only exacerbated the existing food insecurity issues that were already straining the surrounding ecosystem, but also further decreased forage in the area.

Beekeeping provides a supplementary livelihood for rural communities

To make matters worse, the long-term effects of climate change are becoming apparent across the region. Weather patterns are shifting and the occurrences of large-scale climate events (drought, cyclones, floods) have increased three-fold in the past twenty years and the risks are expected to worsen in the future (FAO 2016; USAID 2016). These changes influence the life cycles of plants, with flowering seasons shifting in recent years. Crop rounds are more likely to fail as temperatures warm (USAID 2016), again reducing forage in the area and income opportunities for rural communities. Further deforestation could follow as traditional livelihoods disappear and more community members turn to the forest for resources.

If honey bees are lost from this region the entire community will lose more than the honey that they provide. Everyone depends on resources from the forest, but without pollinators the health of the forest ecosystem will drop dramatically. Crops also need pollination in order to produce harvestable fruit. In fact, many crops will actually generate larger fruits or a more abundant harvest if hives are kept nearby. Truly everyone benefits from having beekeepers and their honey bees in the community!


  1. European Commission. (2021). Echo Daily Flash of April 14 2021. European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations.
  2. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. (2016). CSA in Madagascar / Climate-smart agriculture in Madagascar. [Video].
  3. Harper, G. J., Steininger, M. K., Tucker, C. J., Juhn, D., & Hawkins, F. (2007). Fifty years of deforestation and forest fragmentation in Madagascar. Environmental conservation, 34(4), 325-333.
  4. Hung, K. J., Kingston, J. M., Albrecht, M., Holway, D. A., & Kohn, J. R. (2018). The worldwide importance of honey bees as pollinators in natural habitats. Proceedings of the Royal Society B. 285(1870).
  5. UNDP. (2019). Human Development Report 2019: beyond income, beyond averages, beyond today. In United Nations Development Program.
  6. USAID. (2016). Climate Change Risk in Madagascar: Country Fact Sheet.
  7. Vieilledent, G., Grinand, C., Rakotomalala, F. A., Ranaivosoa, R., Rakotoarijaona, J. R., Allnutt, T. F., & Achard, F. (2018). Combining global tree cover loss data with historical national forest cover maps to look at six decades of deforestation and forest fragmentation in Madagascar. Biological Conservation, 222, 189-197.